Page last updated at 18:09 GMT, Thursday, 20 March 2008

When can children be left alone?

Scarlett Keeling
Scarlett Keeling was found dead on a beach in Anjuna last month

Fifteen-year-old Scarlett Keeling was killed while on an extended visit to India with her mother and siblings.

Her mother, Fiona MacKeown, has been criticised for taking her children out of school and leaving the teenager while she travelled without her for part of the trip. But what are the rules surrounding parental responsibility?

Here are some of the laws and guidelines that govern schooling and child supervision in the UK.

When is it appropriate to leave a child alone?

There is no legal age limit for leaving a child on his own.

However, it is an offence to leave a child alone if it places him at risk.

Under the Children and Young Persons Act, parents can be prosecuted for neglect if they leave a child unsupervised "in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health".

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) believes it is unacceptable for a child under 16 to be left alone overnight.

It says most parents would be happy to leave a 16-year-old alone for an evening, but would not leave them for a weekend.

Is it compulsory for children to attend school?

Education is compulsory in the UK, but attending school is not.

Home education is an option and parents are not required to register or seek approval from the local authority to educate their children at home.

Neither does home education have to take place solely in the family home.

How long can youngsters be taken out of school?

The Independent Schools Council, which represents about 1,200 of the 2,500 independent schools, said each school would have its own policy on allowing pupils to be taken out for extended periods.

For state schools, parents can take children out of school for up to 10 days per year. However, this has to be approved by the school and may meet with opposition by officials.

Some schools may refuse to release a pupil and the decision partly depends when in the year it happens.

For example, removal of children during an exam period would - in all likelihood - result in a refusal.

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